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Global Climate Change Digest

A Guide to Information on Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion
Published July 1988 through June 1999


Glacial Concerns

Item #d98aug37

The rapid thinning and retreat of the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica (see Rignot article in Prof. Pubs./Glacial Retreat in this issue) has raised concerns about the possible collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet [see “West Antarctica’s Weak Underbelly Giving Way?” Science 281 (5376), 499-500 (July 24, 1998)], which constitutes one-quarter of Antarctica. These concerns were first voiced by Terence Hughes of the University of Maine back in 1981. The fear is that, if this and other ice streams dissolve away, the downhill slope of the offshore seabed would accelerate the glacial outpouring, leading to a breakup and melting of the entire ice sheet within a couple of centuries. Such a collapse, it has been estimated, would produce a worldwide sea-level rise of more than 5 m.

In India, a cold, snowy winter did not compensate for the melting of the Dokriani Bamak Glacier in the Himalaya. Instead, measurements of the glacier by J. T. Gergan of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology at Dehradun found that the glacier is retreating 20 m this year [see “Himalayan Glacier Backing Off,” Science 281 (5381), 1277 (Aug. 28, 1998)]. Moreover, Dokriani Bamak is considered typical of the hundreds of glaciers that feed the Ganges River. Predictions are that, if these glaciers continue retreating at the current rate for the next quarter century, the Ganges will swell, and then its flow will fall off to perilous levels during the summers.

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